Passion for wild weather

When Hurricane Bill hit Atlantic Canada this weekend, most of usavoided the region and watched the rain, if at all possible, on TV.

When Hurricane Bill hit Atlantic Canada this weekend, most of us avoided the region and watched the rain, if at all possible, on TV.

Not George Kourounis. The 39-year-old Torontonian was in the eye of the storm.

As Canada’s only storm chaser who’s been able to make a living off the job, Kourounis tries to be at the centre of action for as many hurricanes, tornadoes and volcanic eruptions as he possibly can.

He grew up, however, with quite a different career path planned. A musician as a teen in Hull, Que., Kourounis came to Toronto to study audio engineering at Trebas Institute.

He did well as an engineer and eventually managed a large sound studio in downtown Toronto that did work for film and TV.

“It was very long hours and dealing with stressed-out clients,” he recalls. Kourounis needed a way to chill. In 1998, he heard about a company taking people down to the US for two weeks of chasing tornados. “Well, this is pretty cool. I’m stressed out at work, I want to go and try this,” he thought.

The trip got Kourounis totally hooked, so he set to learning everything he could — through books, the Internet and taking to experts — about storms.

He got extra time off work and spent his vacations trailing hurricanes and tornados. He began taking the entire month of May off every year: that’s tornado season. He also began visiting erupting volcanoes.

“I got known as the guy who was always in the right place at the wrong time,” says Kourounis, who became a pro at reading the sky and knowing just where a storm will hit. He took pictures and video footage of whatever he saw. Eventually, news organizations started calling and buying his stuff.

In 2006, a TV production company called. With them, he developed the show Angry Planet and sold it to the Outdoor Life Network. Thanks to this gig, he was able to quit his day job and chase storms professionally. He takes camera crews to dangerously hot caves, lakes of sulphur, lighting storms. Even if the show’s not shooting a storm, he’ll chase it on his own, often in his very beat-up 1999 Honda CRV.

When he’s not travelling, he’s following storms via the web, planning trips and editing tape for his show. He also sometimes gets to see his wife, whom he married on the edge of an exploding volcano in the South Pacific.

“She’s very understanding. She knows it’s my passion.”